Have you noticed how much young kids know and have experienced these days? It seems they are way more mature and better educated than we were at their age. The school work is tougher; the rules are stricter, and even their topics of conversation are more adult-like. There is more pressure to achieve, succeed, compete and be responsible. But is it too much, too soon?
Our school district recently raised its testing standards and created a more intense curriculum to better prepare kids for college. And this isn't just at the high-school level. It starts as soon as kindergarten. For example, the district no longer offers half-day kindergarten programs; all students are required to attend school all day. Kindergartners are now using i-Pads for their reading assignments, as well as computers for other lessons. My first grader is doing math story problems, basic algebra and writing paragraphs with punctuation. Although it is exciting to see how much she is learning and thriving, I also question if too much pressure is being placed on our children at such a young age.
And it's not just academics that are getting tougher. It's also the rules in the classrooms and the stricter discipline. I've heard a few stories from both students and parents that really surprised me. For example, one child spent the entire gym class facing the wall in a timeout because she forgot her gym shoes. She wasn't even allow to watch the other kids. In some elementary classrooms, if you forget to put your name on your paper, you miss recess. And even if you are sick, you must face the consequences. When one young boy was absent for two days due to illness, he had to miss part of his recess to make up his work. He came home crying and felt like he had been punished for being sick. I understand that kids need to learn responsibility, but sometimes I wonder if we are forgetting how young they actually are.
The relationships kids have with their friends and their topics of conversation also seem more grown up than they should be. I remember being surprised when my daughter came home from preschool talking about her “boyfriends” and who she was going to marry. She also told me that every girl in her class had a boy she was interested in. A couple of girls liked the same boy, and basically told each other: “He's my boyfriend, so you need to find another.” While this may be cute to a point, I don't think 4-year-olds should be competing with other girls to win over a boy.
When my daughter got into kindergarten, the adult comments and behavior continued. One day, she came home from school and said: “Mom, you're hot!” I was stunned and asked her what she meant. “Hot means really pretty,” she explained. She then went on to say that a boy in her class told her she was “hot” and another thinks so too. Then there was the day my daughter's friend told me that when you get married, you do something really naughty with your husband. Did this young child actually know about sex already? I certainly hope not, but it did leave me wondering.
Some days I feel like I have a teenager instead of a 6-year-old. I know it's important to give our children a good education. I understand they need to learn to be independent, responsible and productive. But they also need to have fun and be kids. Sometimes I fear that while we're busy grooming our elementary-school children for college and adulthood, we're putting unnecessary pressure on them and forgetting what childhood is all about. When I think of my own childhood, what I remember most is playing, imagining, dreaming and enjoying life. Let's not take that away from our kids. Adulthood comes soon enough.